Babies sneeze, and a lot of parents question whether or not this is normal or cause for concern.
Afraid your infant is sneezing more than normal? We talked to Bobbie Medical Advisor Jacqueline Winkelmann, MD, FAAP, aka “Dr. Jacq,” to find out what’s normal and what’s not.
How much newborn sneezing is normal sneezing?
Newborn sneezing is not only common but necessary. Just like adults, newborns sneeze as a reflex to help clear particles and obstructions.
“Even if it seems like your baby is sneezing a lot, chances are it is totally normal,” says pediatrician Dr. Jacq.
If your baby sneezes without other symptoms of illness (fever, cough, congestion, trouble breathing), it is probably nothing to worry about.
Here are some of the most common reasons why babies sneeze:
- They have tiny noses: Their noses are tiny, but they’re still breathing in the same dust, particles, and germs from the air that we are- into a much smaller space!
- They don’t know how to breathe through their mouth: Fun fact- while we can open our mouths to breathe when our noses are stuffy, babies haven’t learned how to do this yet. Since they only know how to breathe through their nose, that makes it even more important for them to sneeze out anything that might be stuck in there.1
- To clear irritants: When a baby is exposed to smoke, perfumes, or dust, they will feel the need to sneeze to clear the irritant from their nose, just like an adult.
- What about allergies?: Lots of adults are allergic to dust, pollen, trees, and other things in the environment, and these things make us sneeze. So it’s normal to wonder if your sneezing baby has the same problem. However, it’s unusual for small babies to have these types of allergies.2
- They have a cold: On the other hand, just like an adult, a baby might sneeze when they have a cold, so it’s important to be on the lookout for other cold symptoms (more on this later!)3
- Because of gastroesophageal reflux: This is just a fancy term for spitting up, something that all babies do. And (as you may have seen before) sometimes milk comes out of their nose when they do. You can imagine that this may lead to some sneezing to clear out that little nose. If your baby spits up often, has choking, gagging, difficulty swallowing, wheezing or poor weight gain, these can be signs of gastroesophageal reflux that needs treatment, so be sure to call your baby’s healthcare provider if they have any of these symptoms.4
What types of allergies cause infant sneezing?
It’s very rare for children under a year old to have seasonal or environmental allergies like adults.2 Instead, a baby with an allergy is usually allergic to a food- and this type of allergy doesn’t usually cause sneezing.
Dr. Jacq advises that allergies in infancy and childhood can be divided into three categories.
Baby allergies from food
Milk, soy, and egg are the foods most likely to cause a food allergy in babies. This is different from older children who are more likely to have allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, shell fish, wheat, or fish.5
Of the 3 most common food allergies, milk is the most common in babies. Some babies may have a serious allergic reaction to milk with symptoms like coughing, trouble breathing, or a rash. A baby having these symptoms needs immediate medical attention.
More commonly, babies with a milk protein allergy have symptoms like diarrhea, blood in their poop or vomiting/spitting up. However, sneezing is not typically a symptom of a milk allergy in babies. It’s important to call your baby’s healthcare provider if they have any of the symptoms of a milk allergy.6
The good news about food allergies in infants is that most will outgrow them over time.
Environmental allergies and babies
This type of allergy to things like dust and pet hair in your home is less common in babies.
Environmental allergies usually aren’t seen until a child is at least 1 year old.2
Seasonal allergies for babies
Seasonal allergies to outside allergens like trees and pollen are uncommon before age 3 years.2
Symptoms of seasonal allergies include sneezing, itchy, watery eyes, coughing and runny nose.
How do I know if my baby has a cold?
Since sneezing in older kids and adults is often a sign of having a cold, you may wonder if your baby’s sneezing means they have a cold. Did you know that babies get 6 to 8 colds in the first year of life?! They are still building up their immune system, so they’re more likely to catch a cold than older kids or adults.3
Besides sneezing, other signs of a cold in a baby include:1,3
- Stuffy or runny nose
- Clear, yellow or green nasal discharge
- Eating less or trouble eating because of congestion
- Trouble sleeping
Although many colds get better on their own, it’s important to know what symptoms to be more concerned about.
You should call your baby’s healthcare provider if your baby:1,3
- Has any of the above symptoms and is less than 3 months old
- Is making less wet diapers than usual
- Has a temperature higher than 100.4oF
- Is irritable
- Has red eyes or eye discharge
- Is more sleepy or is difficult to wake up
- Has any trouble breathing or is wheezing
- Is coughing
- Is sneezing often
- Isn’t eating as much as normal
Don’t be afraid to call your baby’s healthcare provider if your baby has any other symptoms that worry you- remember, you know your baby the best!
Happy and healthy sneezing for babies
Your baby is going to sneeze now and then and most of the time this is normal baby behavior. But there are times when sneezing can be sign of something else going on, like a cold, especially when it’s happening often. Bottom line- be sure to check with your baby’s healthcare provider if you have any concerns about their sneezing.